The Grocer’s Son (2007)

“I didn’t sign up for a family feud.”

The Grocer’s Son (Le Fils de L’epicier) is a simple yet graceful tale that explores the emotional connections between human beings.

When the film begins, Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazale) is struggling to make a living in Paris ten years after he left home and the family business behind. His tiny apartment is testament to his lack of permanence, and the stack of unpacked boxes shoved into a corner troubles his mother (Jeanne Goupil). While the family business is in Provence, Antoine’s mother comes to the city after her husband (Paul Crauchet) has a heart attack, and by staying with Antoine, she can visit the hospital. Antoine and his father, however, are locked into a bitter estrangement, and so while he visits the hospital, he never enters his father’s room.

Antoine’s father and mother run a tiny family grocery shop in an equally tiny sleepy village. In this rural area, one of the business operations is to run a mobile grocery van in the outlying areas. Antoine’s father drove the van while Antoine’s mother stayed in the shop, and now with the elder Sforza in the hospital indefinitely, there’s no one to replace him.

Antoine begrudgingly agrees to return home until his father’s condition improves. He’s the natural choice to step in since his older brother, Francois (Stephan Guerin-Tillie) is equally tied down to his hair-dressing salon. Antoine’s agreement to return isn’t motivated by guilt or duty, but by the simple fact he needs the money. So he picks up the threads of responsibility with resentment and more than a little brooding anger as if he’s been backed into a corner and must now perform since there are no other reasonable choices. When he returns home, he takes along a neighbour, Claire (Clotilde Hesme)–a young woman who’s trying to improve her life through correspondence courses. Antoine has always admired Claire from afar, but he hasn’t pursued the relationship. Somehow this seems connected to his inability or refusal to set down roots, and perhaps this all stems from the fact that he loathes the family business and the threat of day-to-day petty responsibilities.

Antoine’s extreme dislike of the family business is evident in everything he does–from how he talks to his mother to how he treats his customers. Loading the mobile grocery van and taking to the rural roads, most of Antoine’s customers are very elderly people who are habituated to Antoine’s father. Everyone has to adjust to these new relationships. While Antoine is abrasive and rude, some of his customers react by being very difficult.

In many ways, The Grocer’s Son is fairly standard and predictable fare. There are no real surprises here–apart from the fact that the film fails to explore the roots of the estrangement between Antoine and his father. But that said, I would still have to say that in spite of its cliches, The Grocer’s Son was definitely worth seeing for its warmth and wisdom, and also for its gorgeous scenery. It’s impossible to watch this film without feeling silent envy that Antoine is able to spend a few months in such a setting. He takes the beauty of this region for granted, and while the film presents an idealized, simplistic version of life in Provence, this is not a bad way to indulge our fantasies of a simpler, quieter life.

The Grocer’s Son is from Director Eric Guirado, and is July’s release from Film Movement’s DVD-of-the-month club. For more information, go to www.filmmovement.com

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